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Full text of "Life of a Confederate soldier in a federal prison"

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Life of a Confederate Soldier 
in a 
Federal Prison 

by J. B. Srnul 




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Life of a 
Confederate 
Soldier in a 
Federal Prison 



J. B. ERNUL 



Vanceboro, N. C. 
1914 






f~ 



Life of a Confederate Soldier 
in a Federal Prison. 



By J. B. ERNUL, Vanceboro, N. C. 

As the greater number of the boys 
of '61 and '65, who donned the Gray and 
fought for the Right as they saw the 
right, have passed over the mysterious 
river Styx and are at rest under the 
shade of the Tree of Life, and those who 
still remain must soon follow, I have de- 
cided to write a sketch of my life as a 
Confederate soldier. 

In the spring of 1861, while the men 
and boys were gathering at every cross- 
road and station to enlist as soldiers to 
drive out those who were oppressing the 
South, I became anxious to cast my lot 
with the rest. So I obtained the consent 
of my parents and joined Co. I, 10th 
N. C. Regiment, Artillery, but later on 
was transferred to Infantry. 

When not at drill the time was spent 
in the vices of army life. A gambling 
epidemic broke out which spread with 
great rapidity and but few made escape 
I saw men give half their rations to have 
the other cooked rather than stop gaming. 
All kinds of gambling was practiced mor- 
ality for the time was ignored and the sol- 
dier who endeavored to iive right was ridi- 



2 Life of a Confederate Soldier 

culed. If caught reading his Bible, such ex- 
pressions were heard as "Hello parson, 
you must be scared, I don't think their 
will be any fighting soon" or "Hello par- 
son what time do you expect to start a 
revival in camp." Later on, however, 
serious thoughts of religion prevailed. 
When the shot and shell began to whiz by 
them, splintering rails and tearing off 
tree tops, with comrades falling around, 
they began to realize the great need of 
religion. One good battery with a good 
supply of garpe and shell, holding an 
elevated position could bring hard 
hearted sinners to repentance. It did 
not require a dozen old sisters with their 
turkey wings begging them to repent of 
their sins, They were truly good then 
but the great trouble was in keeping them 
so. If his life was spared the sacred res- 
olution would not be long remembered. 
This order of things lasted only a few days, 
however, when some fellow would slip 
around to the Sutler tent and purchase 
a new deck of cards, return to his quar- 
ters, pick up an oilcloth and spread it 
on the ground, open up his new deck 
and begin to shuffle. Some three or four 
others would step up and a regular game 
of seven up or draw poker would begin. 
In less than a week the Bible reader would 
be a thing of the past, when gambling 
would go on as before and would not stop 



in a Federal Prison 3 

until the next signal for a fight was heard 
in the front, when the same unloading 
would take place with gambling goods. 

On the 14th of March, 1862, I got my 
first experience in real war, but as I am 
writing mainly of my life in prison camp, 
Point Lookout, and how I was captured 
by a Yankee, I'll go back to March 7, 1865. 

It was reported that Schoefield's Ar- 
my Corps was advancing. We marched to 
a creek to investigate and found the 
enemy in full view. They shelled us 
pretty lively all that evening, but made 
no attempt to charge. Our commanding 
officer decided that we had better get in 
their rear. So we started to the rear of 
the "Yanks" about an hour before day 
to play tag with them for a spell. We 
found them about sunrise and were re- 
ceived right warmly. After much tag- 
ging on both sides, the "Yanks" gave 
way and we captured some two or three 
thousand of them. I was wounded in 
my leg, and seeing a pool of water I 
thought I would bathe my leg and stop 
the blood. While busily engaged with 
my work, up poked a "Yank" and said, 
"Johnny, you are mine, come with me 
and I will take you to a summer resort, 
we have room enough for you all." We 
went to his General's headquarters, when 
we arrived an aide went in the tent and 
the general came out, made a slight bow 



Life of a Confederate Soldier 



and I saluted him. He asked me many 
questions concerning the troops in his 
rear, then asked me if my leg was pain- 
ful, called a doctor who examined my 
wound and said there were small pieces 
of bone in the wound which made am- 
putation necessary. I noticed a "Yank" 
standing near who winked at me, came 
closer and whispered, "Don't let that 

d — butcher take your leg off." I 

was then told to take off my equipments. 
They took my belt, at which I objected, 
I told the general if I were going to a 
summer resort there might be ladies 
there, and I could not make a very ad- 
mirable appearance holding my pants 
up w r ith both hands. The general then 
told a soldier to give me my belt. The 
firing them began near us, I was thrown 
on a horse and all moved off lively for a 
mile or so. We came to a place where 
some "Yanks" were cooking and eating. 
We prisoners were dismounted and were 
treated very kindly by our captors. The 
next morning there were seven more 
prisoners brought into camp, I think 
they were Georgians, and not slow on 
the eating line either. I heard some of 
the Yankees say that " If all the John- 
nies were as good fighters as they were 
eaters, Schofield had better retreat 
lively." 

We lay around for a short time with 



in a Federal Prison 5 

the "Yanks", eating and playing cards. 
Their food became scarce, then our 
troubles began. We were put on board 
a transport and started for the"summer 
resort." There were about eight hundred 
of us prisoners. After we had gotten 
out to sea they began to issue rations of 
raw pickled beef and hard tack to us of 
which we all ate heartily. The sea was 
awfully rough, ' the waves rolling high 
and soon it was very evident that al- 
most every prisoner was suffering dread- 
fully with seasickness, while their cries 
for water were pitiable to hear. After 
several days we arrived at out "summer 
resort." We were taken from the barge 
to the headquarters of the officers. 
There were many ladies present, I sup- 
pose they were members of the officers' 
families. I saw some of the ladies 

pointing at us and remarking, I suppose 
about our appearances. Some of us 
were barefooted, others without hats, 
while our pants were worn off on the 
bosoms and knees, the tails were heavi- 
ly fringed denoting long and hard ser- 
vice. We were required to give our 
names and commands, names of States 
from which we came, after which we 
were marched to the "bull pen". On 
the way to the pen I saw a big pile of 
coffins and wondered what they could do 
with so many. I found out later We 



6 Life of a Confederate Soldier 

got to the gate. It was thrown open and 
we marched in. Things were looking 
bad to me. The prisoners were placed in 
tents from eight to ten to the tent, with 
no other bedding but our clothes. The 
next morning we drew meat. I thought 
at the time it was rather small for a 
meal, but found out it was to last all 
day. At ten o'clock, we drew one-half 
loaf of bread (half loaf to each man) 
and one pint of soup. As we were all 
sick the rations did very well for a while. 
On Saturday each man drew a loaf of 
bread to last until Monday. I carefully 
hid half of my first loaf, I thought in a 
safe place, but when I went for it Sunday 
it was gone. No one can imagine my disap- 
piontment at my loss. I feel sure that 
my bread was not stolen by a Confederate 
for they did not steal (one might have 
borrowed it) and though I felt hard to- 
wards who ever got it then, I have for- 
given him since, if he were a Confederate 
and only borrowed it. After that first 
Sunday I hid no more bread but put it 
where friends could not borrow it, nor 
thieves could steal it. I spent Sun- 
days in fasting and prayer, and in watch- 
ing the negro guard marching around 
in white paper collars and white gloves, 
which made them appear more hate- 
ful to us. I heard some Texans say 



in a Federal Prison 7 

"Those black sons of perdiction are 
afraid of getting sunburnt." 

After I had been in prison a few days 
I began to suffer from hunger. I saw 
some of the boys eating broiled rats, 
they smelled very appetizing, but I 
could not get any to eat. I decided 
that I must either find something to eat 
or starve; on looking about I saw some 
oats or rye growing beyond the dead 
line, knowing that it was death to be 
caught beyond _ the death line, I waited 
until dark to venture out for some of the 
grain. I thought I could make soup of the 
grain, I got a turn of it, came back 
and put it onto boil. The longer it boiled 
the tougher it became and the less fit it 
was to eat, so I gave up trying to find 
more to eat than my captors pleased to 
give me. 

While walking about one day I acci- 
dently passed the guard at the hospital 
gate. Passing through the wards down 
to the dead house I saw thirty or forty 
of the poorest objects I had ever seen 
before. There were two that looked rath- 
er fleshy. Seeing a fellow standing near 
I thought I'd ask some questions, so be- 
gan: "How long have you been here, 
brother?" "Eight months," he replied. 
"Of what kind of sickness did those 
men die?" He replied, "They starved 
to death." "What killed those fleshy 



8 Life of a Confederate Soldier 

ones?" "They got drowned diving in- 
to the soup kettle for beans." They 
were cooks, he said. I then asked him 
if he thought there was any chance for 
me to get cook's place that I would galdly 
work all day and part of the night to 
keep from starving. He shook his head 
and walked off. I passed on disgusted 
with all I had seen. 

Now I am coming to the toughest 
thing I had ever struck. After leaving 
the dead house I came to the guard. He 
told me to halt. I told him that I be- 
longed to the other side and must go. 
Holding his gun up so that I could see 
down its barrel, he said, "That ball is 
whirling fast, it wants to get out." He 
then called a white man, who came and 
talked to me awhile, and then said, 
"You need some jewelry, something like 
a twelve pound ball and chain." Oh! 
horror of horrors, if any of my piney- 
woods friends would have heard me then. 
But my pleadings were all in vain. I sat 
down and received the jewelry. I sat 
there for a while thinking. I can't ex- 
press how badly I felt — can't remember 
a time when I felt worse. I felt ever 
so much better a few years later when 
I asked my girl a civil question and got 
the right answer. I finally concluded, 

that as long as that d ball and 

cham must be my constant torment fov 



in a Federal Prison 9 

a while at least, I had just as well move 
off with it, so I gathered it up and went 
to my tent. The boys just gazed at me 

when I threw the d thing on the 

ground in my tent. My bunk mate 
asked me what had happened, and I 
gave them the whole story. After I had 
told him all about it, my bunk mate said 
"That darn thing will » give you more 
trouble than twins ever gave their moth- 
er at night." I don't think he missed 
it far either. If possible I think my 
jewelry gave me more trouble at night 
when the Jerusalem overtakers were on 
strictest duty. I began to notice that 
those who had been wearing a ball and 
chain were not wearing them any more, 
so I began inquiring and learned that 
there was a person in camp who had a 
file and would file a ball and chain off 
for a chew of tobacco, I found him and 
had soon concluded a bargain. The gate 
on the bay stayed open during the day 
time. Anyone noticing would have seen 
me going toward the end of the wharf 
carrying my haversack, but only one 
person knew what it contained. That 
ball and chain is now resting on the 
bottom of Chesapeake Bay. 

The greatest difficulty in prison was 
the necessity of getting through the first 
few days with nothing to do. These 
hours dragged slowly. Some were able 



10 Life of a Confederate Soldier 

to pass a great number in sleeping. 
Those of less nerve slept fifteen or more 
hours, but others found such indulgence 
impossible and were forced to seek other 
methods of enduring the tiresome days 
and nights. 

There were some very amusing things 
happened in camp. Now to think of 
such as toting barrels and boxes every 
day, but to see thousands of the boys on 
a fair evening with their shirts off hunting 
the seams for — -we know what — so they u 
might get a little rest, for the Jerusalem 
overtakers were very bad and a bit sharp. 

One amusing feature of prison life 
was a barber who would daily walk 
through the camp and repeat, "Here 
goes your good old Tar Heel barber, will 
shave you for a chew of tobacco. If any- 
one will shave you cheaper, I'll give you 
a chew to let me shave you." 

In prison camp I belonged to Com- 
pany I, Sixth Division, near the big cross 
ditch. 

On the 11th of June, 1865 a notice was 
put on the bulletin board that all the 
prisoners were to be discharged. This 
notice brought forth the most joyous 
yells I had heard in months. About 
twenty thousand men and boys made a 
rush for the gate. Each man gave his 
name, company, regiment and State, 
the same as when he entered prison, 



in a Federal Prison 1 1 

then received his discharge. My name 
happened to be among the first called. I 
think I smiled for the first time in 
months. I gave my name, company, 
regiment and State, took the oath and 
received my parole, which I still have. 
We were put aboard a boat about dark 
and started for Richmond, Va. We 
arrived in Richmond about 4 p.m. The 
next day we got off the boat and the 
guard told us to move on. As we did 
not at first know which way to move, 
there was a little confusion. We were 
given permission to camp in the Capitol 
square until we could get transportation 
home. While passing Libby prison a 
Yankee called to me and said, "Johnnie, 
don't you want some boiled pork and 
hard tack?" I smiled or tried to smile 
an answer. He gave me about two 
pounds of pork and filled my haversack 
with hard tack. I am sure that Yankee's 
heart was in the right place and believe 
he will get his reward for passing "the 
cup of water." I had gathered up a lot 
of cigar stumps on my way to camp, so 
I ate pork and hardtack and chewed and 
smoked cigar stumps nearly all at the 
same time. I slept well that night. 

We got transportation by way of Dan- 
ville, Va., Greensboro, N. C, Raleigh, 
N. C, and New Bern, N C. The next 



12 Life of a Confederate Soldier 

day after we reached New Bern I got to 
my home, June 23d, 1865. 

Well, it is all over now, and I do not 
feel unkindly toward the Northern sol- 
dier who fought because he felt it his 
duty to fight. We only differed in opin- 
ion. Some one is to blame though 
for placing black, ignorant brutes as 
guards over Confederate prisoners. I 
don't think there are many of those 
prisoners who can forgive and forget 
that much of the past. I can't under- 
stand who or why any Southern white 
man can vote any ticket except the 
Democratic ticket today. It seems to 
me that there must be something wrong 
in the upper-story of the Republican 
voters of the South. But that too, is, I 
suppose, just a difference in opinions. 




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